Ken Thaiday Sr / Meriam Mir people / Australia b.1950 / Beizam headdress (Black bamboo triple hammerhead shark) 1999–2000 / Plywood, synthetic polymer paint, black bamboo, hose fitting, trickle hose, cat’s eyes, fishing line / 100 x 98 x 113cm / Purchased 2000. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ken Thaiday Sr

Ken Thaiday Sr
Beizam headdress (Black bamboo triple hammerhead shark) 1999–2000

Not Currently on Display

Beizam, the hammerhead shark, is an important totem for Ken Thaiday’s people of Erub in the eastern Torres Strait Islands; shark headdresses are often worn during ritual dances.

The scale of Beizam headdress (Black bamboo triple hammerhead shark) 1999–2000, as well as the blood-red staining of the shark’s jaws, suggests the awe-inspiring nature of this ‘king of the sea’, while the elegantly curved black bamboo form recalls a shark’s graceful passage through water.

Contemporary versions of these culturally significant dance constructions often use modern materials, such as plywood, wire and plastic, to provide the dancer with lighter, more flexible adornment with which to perform.

Ken Thaiday Sr was born in 1950 on Erub (Darnley Island) in the outer Torres Strait, one of Australia’s most remote communities. Thaiday spent his childhood with his family, fishing and gardening, and participating in ceremonial life. When he was about 13, the family moved to Waiben (Thursday Island) where he attended school, and two years later they settled in Cairns.

Thaiday first worked for the railways, then as a labourer and later as a leading hand (a supervisor on a construction site). Though Thaiday now lives and works with his family in Cairns, the celebration of his island culture remains an important aspect of his life.

In the 1980s, Ken Thaiday became a leader in the creation of Torres Strait dance objects when he formed a dance troupe to perform at traditional tombstone ceremonies in north Queensland. While spectacular headdresses have become his best-known works, he also creates dance weapons, zamiyakal (articulated dance machines), paddles and musical instruments. His artworks are based on the rich history and narratives of the Torres Strait Islands.


Discussion Questions

1. What materials has the artist used to make this headdress?

2. Discuss how this headdress is culturally specific to the Torres Strait Islands. What clues does the work give us to indicate its cultural origins? Consider the subject matter, design and materials.

Classroom Activities

1. What is a totem? Think about the totems depicted in this artwork. What do they tell us about place? Make a dance mask that represents the story of your home. Work with a partner to add moving parts. Wear your mask during a performance for the class.

2. Using readily available materials (cardboard, cane, sticks, boxes, strong wood glue, etc.), construct a headdress incorporating a symbol important to you. Set up a suitable backdrop and lighting, and ask a classmate to take a portrait photograph of you wearing your headdress. Arrange a class display of the printed portraits.